What to look for in a pan.
The key to quality for all stovetop cookware is weight. A thin pan will scorch easily and does not maintain a constant temperature.A large cooking surface is best for shallow frying or sautéing and other quick methods of cookery. Tall thin pans help reduce evapouration during long slow cookery. Choose the right size pot or pan for the quantity of food you want to cook: too large and the food will scorch and dry out, too small and it may overflow.
And a few good pots and pans may be all you need, though this can depend on what you eat and how you want to cook. If you cook with the minimum of fats, a high quality nonstick pan is essential.
If you want to brown meat or poultry and then deglaze the pan with wine or stock to make use of the browned sediment in the pan then Cast iron is a good option a solid pan with a stainless steel surface is another.
Saucepans are for heating liquids and cooking in liquids often with a lid on top.The very best saucepans are the classic lined copper pans, these help ensure that food does not scorch during prolonged cooking. Stainless steel is the next best choice though in some cases cast iron can be apprpriate. Many sizes are available ranging from 1 to 5 quarts. In larger sizes, look for a small second handle on the side of the pan , to help balance weight for carrying. Saucepans usually have straight sides, though some designs favor a sloping sides to enable whisking to reach every part of the pan. Mainly used for stewing and boiling.
Fry(ing) pans or skillets: The base of a skillet should be thick so that the heat spreads evenly and food cooks at the same speed without burning. Copper and cast iron fry pans are preferred because they conduct heat evenly. The traditional American skillet is made of heavy cast iron. The sides of a frying pan flare outto make it easy for spatula use, and for the tossing and flipping of ingredients. Shallow frying involves quick cooking to sear and brown something fast and then bring the heat down to cook slowly and through a food Frying pans can be oval or very flat, as in fajita or for crepes. Look for a long handle that does not heat up too much.
Sauté pans: are made from lined copper or stainless steel this pan is used to shallow fry and often to finish in an oven. They have wide heavy bases and straight low sides. They are pans for browning meat and poultry for sweating vegetables, for cooking rice, for making sauces, and for braising. They have lids and long handles.
Braising pan: Braising is slow cooking of large cuts of meat or vegetables in a liquid usually in the oven. An oval pan and a heavy lid are usual as is all-around heavy weight to hold heat. Steep sides are also appropriate, so that the heat completely surrounds and evenly heats the food.
Casserole: Modern casseroles are deep nad heavy with a tight fitting lid with sizes ranging from 2-1/2 to 12 quarts. Design for braising and pot roasting use with care over direct heat. Usually round or oval with steep sides and a lid; it is not necessarily heavy. Some casseroles are made of ceramic or earthenware, while others are of the same manufacture as a high quality saucepan.
Dutch oven: A Heavy lidded pan for Braisng, stewing, pot roasting or baking. Can be used on a stovetop, in an oven or buried in a fire pit. The Dutch oven is a cross between a braising pan and a casserole.
Stockpot: This should br taller than it is wide with sturdy handles. Capacities range from 6 to 20 quarts. Th high sides slow down evepouration. Good for cooking pasta as well as for making stocks or making large quantities of fruit jam, chutney or sauce.
Gratin Dish: This is a round or oval dish with a flat bottom and straight low sides and loop handles at either end. It can be made from enamelled cast irn, glass earthenware or china. Mainly used for oven baked pasta dishes and puddings.
Roasting pan: Rectangular or oval with shallow sides that contain the juices but allow direct heat to, reach the joint. It should be heavy enough so that it does not scorch when making gravy on top of the stove. A good-quality trivet is useful to keep the meat from stewing in its juices. Stainless steel or aluminium is the best material. see Roasting
Wok: A large bowl-shapes pan with a rounded bottom. Woks can come with a lid, a steaming rack and a metal ring. Designed to heat and cool rapidly, to fry, braise and steam. Can be made from cast iron, steel or non-stick models.
Double boiler: Is used for cooking delicate sauces that might split if cooked directly over the heat such as hollandaise or fresh egg custard.